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A Village of Big Names

A Village of Big Names

A Village of Big Names

During the Umgang walking tour in Au, which explores buildings designed by a series of architects and artists, the narrator reveals his connection to the famous poet Franz Michael Felder.

“Any idea where the village is here? I can see the church and the Hotel Krone, and above the Bregenzerache river on the mountainside are more houses, including the beautiful new Hotel Adler. But, where exactly is the village itself?” My wife is at a total loss. I try to explain: “Here near the church the road crosses the Bregenzerache to Damüls. This is what locals call the Argenzipfel area. Have a look up there and you’ll already see the first rust-coloured pole of the Umgang walk. This is probably one of the oldest houses in the Bregenzerwald. The wood for the house is said to have grown about 800 years ago! That’s not a fairy tale either, it’s been scientifically proven.” Together, we proceed towards the church, where there is yet another pole from the Umgang tour. The church features a plaque in memory of the foundation of the Au guild by Michael Beer in 1657. This era marked the birth of the Bregenzerwald Baroque master builders, from whom important buildings in Germany, Switzerland and Alsace originated. Incidentally, there is a brand new, small museum about these master builders that is well worth seeing in the curate’s house next to the chapel in Au-Rehmen.

I draw my wife’s attention to a particular feature: “The memorial plaque and the war memorial in front of the church were created by Kaspar Albrecht, architect and sculptor in Au. The renovation of the church was done in 1983 by his nephew, architect Jakob Albrecht. The particularly stylish altar and ambo were created by his other nephew, the sculptor Herbert Albrecht. In effect, this is where the family has immortalised its legacy.” The owner of the Hotel Krone is also affiliated with the church. Walter Lingg comes to the church with his guests every Friday and recounts the history of the place. But he doesn’t just stick to tradition: For the multiple renovations and new buildings at his hotel, he brought in Oskar Leo Kaufmann and Albert Rüf, masters of the new Vorarlberg architecture.

Via the street gallery at the Bregenzerache river, we drive into the Rehmen district, which is probably the most beautiful part of the village. “The small chapel makes for a pretty village centre, but it looks more attractive on the outside than on the inside,” my wife says somewhat critically. But she is enthusiastic about the old inn, the Löwen Alpine distillery. Here, an erstwhile stable was converted into a distillery. Next to it are the old innkeeper’s rooms and on the first floor there is a magnificent hall. “I would have loved to dance with you here at a village festival,” she says with a laugh, knowing full well that dancing with me is not a pleasurable experience.

“From here we can also walk to the wonderful old farmhouses at Holdamoos and Holand, which are part of the Umgang walk in Au,” I say, changing the subject. One of them is an old middle pasture hut, which in reality is no hut at all! “At the temporary summer settlements at the mid-elevation pastures, farmers used to spend time with their families before and after heading to the mountain pastures. So they are an integral part of Alpine transhumance in the Bregenzerwald region, which was designated as a UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage some time ago.” At Holand, an old farmhouse was transformed into a very special hotel through renovation and the construction of a new building. “Look up there. That new house situated on that beautiful point above the village is part of the Umgang walk as well. I happen to know that it was designed by another important architect, Christian Albrecht.”

After looking a few things up prior to our visit, I’m keen to share what I’ve learned: “Anna Katharina Moosbrugger, who married Franz Michael Felder, the most important writer in Vorarlberg in the 19th century, came from Au. Without her, Felder would never have become the extraordinary poet, the great social reformer, nor the political theorist and practitioner we still revere today. And by the way, this ‘Wible’ (as Felder used to call his wife) is my great-grandmother.” My pride in relaying these facts is audible. “Then I’ll let the lesser-known descendant of great ancestors take me to dinner now, though I’ll let you choose the inn. There are enough good ones here – like everywhere in the Bregenzerwald.” My wife is always practical when it comes to rounding off a beautiful excursion.

Author: Walter Fink
Issue: Winter 2021-22 Travel Magazine